The Lies Stories Make Us Believe

In life, we will believe many lies.

Some of these lies originate with our own flawed perspectives. Some are pushed on us by others we trust. Others are sold to us through the vast web of media that comprises much of our life experience. Many of them we believe.

If I can just reach this milestone, I’ll be truly happy.

Follow your heart and you’ll never go wrong.

The here and now is all there is, so I might as well do whatever I feel like in the moment.

If I can find my soul mate, I’ll never feel alone again.

What’s curious about these life lies is that many of us know deep down inside that they aren’t true.

There’s a part of our humanity that warns us of the fleeting nature of the present, the darkness of our own hearts, and the inability of another human to make us whole. Yet these are lies many of us buy into practically. In our heads we know they aren’t true, but our day to day choices reflect a belief in them.

These lies can come from any number of places, but I’m interested in exploring their prevalence in the stories we encounter. How many cheesy romances leave you feeling like you’re incomplete until you find the perfect lover? How many sports films convince you that the champion title is the ultimate goal in life? How many glamorized war films persuade nonveterans that the battlefield is a glorious place to be?

If we were to state any of these ideas in plain terms, many of us would instinctively recognize them as false.

But for some reason, placing these ideas in the context of a story with relatable characters compels us to feel that there must be an element of truth. This comes back to Walter Fisher’s narrative paradigm: a rhetorical system that accounts for the various nonrational ways we as humans can be persuaded. The concept is simple—we hear a story that moves us emotionally, and we alter our beliefs according to our emotional response to that story. This means compelling narratives can persuade us of things we would never accept in a strictly rational sense. They arrest us by the heart, and we become putty in their hands.

 And so we subconsciously begin to believe the lie.

As someone born with a strong natural sense of nostalgia, I have lately realized one of my core lies: that somehow the past can be relived. Someday it will all go back to the way it was—the blissful days of childhood when my family was all still alive and life was simple. Someday lost friends will return to my life, and we will all enjoy the harmony we once had. If I can just reimagine a particular moment clearly enough, it will happen all over again.

As I think of this lie, I am reminded of The Great Gatsby, in Jay Gatsby’s most revelatory exchange with the narrator:

“You can’t repeat the past.” (Nick Carraway)

“Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!” (Gatsby)

While I rationally know that no moment of the past can actually be resurrected, my nostalgic nature continues to promise me that it can all come back someday—just like Jay Gatsby believed. If you know F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous story, this illusion leads to some pretty tragic consequences. I doubt my life will pan out as dramatically (hopefully it doesn’t!), but the point stands: believing a life lie always has consequences.

What’s admirable about The Great Gatsby is that this story—rather than propagating a lie—unmasks it for what it is.

In fact, many literary and cinematic masterpieces are designed to do just that: illustrate what a lie looks like when lived out. The hope is that we as the audience will recognize our own reflection in the mirror and root out the lie’s effect in our lives. We need more of this type of narrative today.

Sadly, though, many stories are better at deceiving us. They keep feeding us the predictable values of pop culture—the ego-inflating, the saccharine, the materialistic, the toxic. A steady diet of this is going to change us. Subtly, yes. Slowly, perhaps. It may not alter the values we talk about or the claims we make, but it will alter the way we interpret life and the choices we make. It will change who we are.

Believing a lie always does.

What are some convincing lies you recognize in stories?

Which lies have you bought into at different points in life?

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4 Comments on “The Lies Stories Make Us Believe

  1. Great post as always! I think one lie that several stories have convinced me to believe in is that everyone has and needs a core friend group that will drop everything to spend time together and help each other out. Somehow in films and books, that always happens, but in reality, it’s pretty rare to have a thing like that. And it’s led to some needless disappointment on my part.

    • Ohhh yes, that’s a GOOD one. That shows up all the time in stories– along with the opposite, romanticized image of the loner who doesn’t need friends in order to live an exciting life. It’s interesting that you mention the “group” aspect of these friends– it seems like the main character often has a gang of minor characters on standby, who all know each and are all connected closely. For many of us, though, our friends don’t know each other and so it feels more like a series of one-on-one relationships, rather than one big community waiting to envelop us will love. In either case, you are right: having that expectation can lead to a significant emotional letdown.

    • Good point. Somehow those friends are able to meet at all hours of the day and none of them seem to have problems with getting out of work whenever they want.

  2. We believe the lies from the stories we read/watch. But where do those come from if not from real life? It’s a bit of a vicious circle.

    Like anyone else, I’ve been fed those lies in the past. That’s why I watch what I say to others. They’re only platitudes if you don’t believe in them yourself. If you don’t, why would you pass them onto others? Well, maybe they’re in different circumstances… but there is no guarantee.

    A thought-provoking topic. On one hand I hate lies, on the other… I need a reprieve from the sucky parts of real life. We all need some hope and the lies provide us with that. Even if just for a moment. But, if believed in for too long they can definitely harm us in the long run. I think the obvious lie are the romance stories that have the couple fall in love, overcome one “big” problem, get married and then live happily ever after. Of course we don’t see the next 30 or 40 years.

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